Jungle Cruise

Posted on July 27, 2021 at 3:15 pm

B
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for sequences of adventure violence
Profanity: Some mild language and implied language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol, animal gets drunk
Violence/ Scariness: Extended peril and aventure-style violence with grisly and graphic images, characters cursed and injured
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters, themes of LGBQT and female empowerment
Date Released to Theaters: July 30, 2021

Copyright Disney 2021
Disney’s efforts to adapt theme park rides as narrative films have ranged from the genuinely entertaining (the original “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl”) to the wildly uneven (“Tomorrowland”), to the almost unimaginably misconceived (“The Haunted Mansion,” “The Country Bears”). “Jungle Cruise,” based on one of Disney’s oldest and most beloved rides (despite some controversy over its updates due to racist and misogynistic displays), ranks among the second-tier “Pirates” movies. The best and the most problematic parts in the film are its efforts to replicate what made the first “Pirates” a huge hit. While it often captures the high-spirited energy of that film, it also comes across as an inferior copy.

If you have Disney+, you can see a terrific behind the scenes history of the original Jungle Cruise ride, overseen by Walt Disney himself. It takes park guests on a tour that covers some of the world’s great rivers, with guides who make a lot of corny jokes and scenes along the way of lost treasure, native artifacts, and animals. As noted, the ride has been updated over the years to eliminate the guns and caricatures of indigenous people and to emphasize naturalist explorers. The movie is set during the First World War but reflects contemporary sensibility as well, with references to colonialists, feminism, and homophobia.

Emily Blunt plays Lily, a PhD who is determined to find a legendary blossom in the Amazon that is said to be able to cure any disease. She believes it is more than a legend and has a map she thinks will take her to it. She is fearless about almost everything (we will find out one thing that scares her). Her brother MacGregor (British stand-up comedian Jack Whitehall) is not brave and feels very strongly about the luxuries civilization has to offer, but he agrees to go along with her. Before they can go, however, she will need to steal an ancient arrowhead that has the clues to the blossoms’ location.

While her brother speaks to the skeptical members of a London explorers’ club, she sneaks upstairs to the club’s archive to grab it. Someone else is trying to get it as well, Prince Joachim (Jesse Plemons), the youngest son of the German Kaiser whose army is currently at war with France, Russia, Great Britain, and the United States. He follows Lily to South America. When she hires Captain Frank (Dwayne Johnson) to take her to the tree with the blossoms, Prince Joachim chases after them in a submarine, launching gunfire and torpedoes. Also after the blossoms are some 16th century conquistadors who have been cursed and are now decrepit, zombie-like souls who come alive, or rather alive-ish only when they are near the river. They need the blossoms to end the curse so they can die.

Production designer Jean-Vincent Puzos and Disney’s unparalleled team of artists have done their usual spectacular job of creating the world of this film, filled with details worth hitting a pause button to absorb. The stunts and action sequences are all skillfully done and very entertaining. The script is uneven, borrowing one of its key twists from the original “Pirates” and under-writing the characters. It is criminal to waste Paul Giamatti in a small role as a rival boat operator trying to put Frank out of business, and Plemons as an underwritten villain. No one has more screen charisma than Johnson and Blunt, and they bring all of it to their roles despite some inconsistency in the way they are conceived that makes some developments abrupt, especially a decision at the end that merits more complexity than we get. Even Blunt and Johnson are not able to muster a lot of chemistry between their characters. It doesn’t help that Frank keeps calling Lily “Pants” (because she is a woman wearing trousers, get it?) or “Lady” and she keeps calling him “Skippy.” Believe me, even the intentional groaner puns are better than that.

Parents should know that this movie has extended action-style peril and violence with swords, fights, guns, and torpedoes. Characters are cursed and there are disturbing and graphic images. Dangerous animals include a panther and snakes. Issues of prejudice against women and GLBT people and the crimes of colonialists are raised. Characters drink alcohol and an animal gets drunk. There is some mild language and some implied or almost-bad language.

Family discussion: Did Lily make the right choice at the end? How do we balance what helps the world with what helps one person? What would you go searching for?

If you like this, try: “The Mummy” with Brendan Fraser, “Pirates of the Caribbean,” and “The Missing Link” from LAIKA

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